Fictional characters are not real.
That much is obvious. When all is said and done, even the most elaborate, complex character is still not a real person. Characters are fictional constructs and don’t exist outside the imagination of the writer and audience. But all fiction is an illusion and characters are a key part of that. When we consume fiction we suspend our disbelief and allow the characters to be real for a time. And when we write, we do the same thing. Only to a much larger degree.
Even the best characters start out as an engine to serve a purpose. When I started writing the first draft of the story that would become Windmills back in 2009, I wrote down the figures I would need to tell my story of corruption, blackmail and murder. I needed the seemingly perfect main character who would do something deplorable. I needed his cocky best friend who would get all the best lines and keep things from getting too depressing. And I needed the oblivious girlfriend to give him a tangible reason to hide what he had done.
That’s all Leo, Lucy and Ed were. Objects to serve the purpose of the plot. But, as is always the case, the more you write the more you learn. I found hidden depths to Ed, a sadness and loneliness that informed everything he did. I found disturbing darkness and surprising shades of compassion in Leo. But it was Lucy who subverted every expectation I had. She was meant to be a boring love interest who would drop out of the story once she uncovered Leo’s secret. But I couldn’t let go of her. There was more to this girl, I was sure of it, and so I wrote and investigated until bit by bit she became clear to me; this damaged, complex woman who wanted so much to be a good person and yet kept having to do evil things in order to survive. While Ed was always the obvious scene stealer, Lucy snuck her way into the heart of the story, becoming more important with each draft until finally she became Leo’s partner in crime in the final moments.
When I started writing the sequel to Windmills, I knew that the heart of it had to be Leo and Lucy’s relationship. I imagined a slower, more introspective book preoccupied with the twisted bond between two broken people who would always be drawn together for the simple reason that nobody else understood them. But as I wrote, Leo Grey, the one-time centre of the story, receded into the background. Lucy, typically, claimed the novel. And in the final moments of writing, the moments when you often realise what story you’ve been telling all along, Lucy emerged as the heart of it all. The final moment of the story is hers, and it felt completely right. It seems strange to ever have thought there would be another outcome.
I won’t write any more about Leo or Lucy; the ending of this book kind of precludes any more instalments in their story. I know I’ll see them again in rewrites and the adaptation I’m working on for uni, and maybe they’ll turn up as supporting characters in other stories down the line. But the two characters who have been in my thoughts and had some kind of claim on me since 2009 have taken their last bow, and it’s a complicated feeling. I’m satisfied with the ending, but it’s hard to feel elated at completing another book when it means saying goodbye to two characters who, after so long, feel utterly real to me.
Writing words about writing words.